Fast times at Warwick Driving Park

By on April 5, 2017

 

The front of an 1887 advertising card (All items from the Sketch Mearig collection)

The front of an 1887 advertising card, and other souvenirs of a bygone era for Lititz. (All items from the Sketch Mearig collection)


In the late 1800s, the corner of North Locust and Brunnerville roads was the place for thrill seekers and horse racing fans alike. For this was the location of the Warwick Driving Park, where thousands of people from both near and far would gather for entertainment.

It was often a tradition that sulky races took place on “Whit Monday,” which typically fell during the months of May or June.

And for many, this special day was considered a holiday, with adults taking off work and children not having school.

LR20170323_RacingParkhandkerchief

The Warwick Racing Park (which it was also referred to as) would also serve as the location of the very first Lancaster County Farmer’s Fair held in October of 1887. Bringing in thousands of spectators from all across the region, the event boasted not only horse racing but other attractions such as a freak show, games of chance, livestock, exhibits from local merchants, and fruit and produce judging. Despite a few reported incidents of pickpockets and crooked hucksters, by and large, the first annual fair was deemed a smash success.

The events would continue each year; and in 1897, the program was managed by H.H. Snavely who hired a Mr. and Mrs. Deeds of Shillington, Berks County, who added exciting chariot and hurdle races.

“The management promises to give more for 25 cents than you can see anywhere else for the money,” the Lititz Record proclaimed during the week of the event.

LR20170323_RacingParkJune

That same year, The Great Lititz Fair welcomed some of the country’s best handlers, bringing a total of 142 different horses to compete.

The full week’s schedule was the following:

Wednesday: First-class musical performances were given in front of the grandstand. There was also three races: a 3-minute class for trotters; a 2:30 class for trotters and pacers; and a gentleman’s road race.

Thursday: There was a parade at 10 a.m. All livestock were on exhibit in a ring on the track. In the afternoon, daylight fireworks were featured. There was a 2:40 class for trotters and pacers; a 2:26 class for trotters and pacers; and a running half-mile race.

Friday: This was children’s day, where kids 12 and under were admitted free of charge when accompanied by parents or a school teacher. A balloon ascension and parachute drop occurred at 4 p.m.

Saturday: Balloon ascension and parachute drop. An added feature to this attraction that day was a trapeze artist who performed death-defying feats in the air before leaping from the balloon and landing safely in a field a quarter mile away.

The great “Nevada” also gave a performance every afternoon in front of the grandstand. Outstanding music every day by “first-class bands” was also supplied. The miracle horse, “Hammer Creek Joe,” also paced a mile every afternoon around the track without a rider. Good old Joe was owned by none other than Jake Himmelberger from the Warwick House, who planned to take his stallion on the road after the fair ended that year.

The railroad and trolley system also ran at special times that week to accommodate the large crowds.

For 1898, a great day was planned for the 4th of July at the track. Aside from the various races, patriotic music provided by the Lititz Military Band, and dancing in the main exhibition building, a unique attraction that year was a “sham” battle between a Spanish and an American ship in recognition of the war that was raging between those two countries at the time. At the end of the “fight,” the Spanish boat was blown to bits. The ships which were quite elaborate in detail boasted a length of 75 feet long each.

While this was a huge year for attendance at the track, unfortunately, numbers would decline greatly as Lititz entered the 1900s; and after a short time, the Warwick Driving Park would be no more.

LR20170323_RacingParkcardback

Sadly, all that is left of the once popular racetrack and grandstand are memories. But the next time you pass by the field or apartment buildings where the track once operated, be sure to look over — you may just hear the roar of the crowd, the excitement of the midway, or the faint sound of a bugle signaling horses to take their mark.

Cory Van Brookhoven is president of the Lititz Historical Foundation and has authored several books on topics involving Lancaster County history, including Lititz. He welcomes your comments at coryvb@hotmail.com.

LR20170323_RacingParkSheet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *